All I want for Christmas...
Apparently it's the most wonderful time of the year, but for many autistic individuals the Christmas season can be the opposite. Lots of social interaction, change of routine, sensory overload; it's a lot to process. I know from personal experience that there can be a long-lasting hangover. It's similar to waking up in the New Year and asking oneself what happened the night before, except in this case it's like coming out of a non-alcohol-induced coma which lasted 12 days. Consequently I've decided to share with you some tips to make Christmas more autism-friendly.
Step 1: Preparation is key...
It can be really helpful for autistic people to know what's expected to happen before it takes place, and Christmas is no exception. Consequently, it's useful to prepare a schedule of what's going to take place and when, using pictures where appropriate. Please be mindful that autistics can be very literal, so if you use a picture of a Christmas dinner then it will be important to explain to them that this may not be what their meal will look like (please don't be affronted by this, I'm sure your cookery skills are more than adequate). It may also prove useful to specify the gifts that are being given to the person, in order to avoid undue anxiety.
Once you've prepared a schedule, it's worth taking the time to explain that sometimes things may happen unexpectedly (although once again, I'm sure your turkey will be fine). When the unexpected occurs, it may be a good idea to suggest that they do something to alleviate their stress, for example listen to music, read a book, or use their favourite app (it could be anything which they find relaxing).
Step 2: Consider their sensory differences
Another part of the preparation process could be to involve the autistic individual in the decoration process. Autistics can have aversion to bright LED lights, may not like certain colours, and find some ornaments distracting, so it's best to check with them before you erect a Christmas tree (the smell of which may also be off-putting).
When it comes to the big day itself, be aware of their communication difficulties. I really struggle to filter out background noise, so trying to have a conversation with someone when there are several others occurring is a real challenge. Please be aware that they may not want to participate in games with their friends and families, in which case it is more beneficial to all if the autistic person is allowed to be excused from taking part. N.B. some people actually enjoy being alone at Christmas.
Step 3: Allow time for relaxation
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it's important to allow time for autistic individuals to take time out for relaxation and do what makes them feel comfortable. Doing so will minimise the risk of meltdowns occurring, which in turn should ensure that everyone has a happier Christmas.
What do I really want for Christmas? Peace and quiet would be nice. That said, I should like to wish you all the best for the chaos ahead...